How low-code development takes the complexity out of API integrations

Application programming interfaces (APIs) are everywhere.

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Application programming interfaces (APIs) are everywhere. They enable the developer of an application to exchange data with other applications without knowing the inner workings of those other programs. The APIs define how data is to be input to, or extracted from, an application.

API integration means, in its simplest form, implementing the exchange of data between two programs using their respective APIs, but in practice, the term is applied to the much more challenging task of setting up data exchange between multiple applications via their APIs.

Implementing APIs between two applications using traditional programming techniques looks relatively simple, but achieving, and subsequently managing, API integration between multiple applications in a production environment can be enormously challenging. This is where low-code programming techniques can help.

Low code hides the complexity of code writing with tools that offer simple user actions, often drag and drop in a graphical user interface, to create the functionality desired. Pre-written code “under the hood” creates the API integrations.

Thus, a low-code tool can greatly streamline API integration, enabling those who understand what is to be achieved by the integration to realise it without needing specialised IT experts.

This article examines the need for API integration, the challenges of achieving it, and how these can be overcome using low-code tools. It will also introduce the Choreo low-code API integration platform, with some real-world examples of its application.

The need for API integration

Digital transformation has been the flavour of the month for several years, accompanied by examples of digital disrupters, such as Uber, and dire warnings about digital dinosaurs: companies that do not embrace digital transformation and are therefore doomed to extinction.

It’s rarely stated, but digital transformation and digital disrupters like Uber would not be possible without API integration. Many applications need to work together and seamlessly exchange data to enable a complex system such as that supporting the Uber ride-sharing service.

Aside from the very significant challenge of setting up and maintaining all the APIs needed for a business like Uber to function, the development of a complex system that exchanges data between multiple applications requires close collaboration between those who understand the business and developers who understand API integration. Low-code API integration can enable those who understand the business needs but do not have high-level programming skills to set up the necessary APIs directly.

And in today’s environment, when effective digital transformation can be the difference between success and failure, speed is vital: to enable new players to seize market opportunities and for incumbents to counter them. API integration therefore needs to be fast and efficient, and, given the shortage of digital skills at all levels, to be achievable with a minimum of programming skills.

Pitfalls of API integration

A successful API integration for a large and complex project spanning multiple applications must overcome multiple challenges:

-   Wide range of skills and knowledge. Developers with knowledge of the APIs of every application are required.

-   Understanding of business requirements. Good communication between those who understand the business goals of a project and those with the skills to implement API integration is essential if a project is to fulfil its intended business goals.

-   Overall control. There needs to be one person with the skills, knowledge, and authority to have an overall view of the project and its business objective, and who is able to ensure it remains on track.

-   Security. Robust systems to create, authorise, authenticate, and store users and their credentials must be implemented, and integrated. Security handshakes, cache and refresh keys, etc., can be complicated to understand and time-consuming to implement and maintain. And the overall system must be secured against potential attacks that could exploit implemented APIs to do damage.

-   Updating. A large and complex API system is likely to require updating as the applications in the integration are updated. This could require continued access to the skilled resources responsible for its initial development, resulting in downtime and user inconvenience.

-   Serverless versus on-premises. An API integration can be deployed on systems operated and controlled by the developer, or run serverless in the cloud. Each brings different challenges and there are pros and cons for each. An API developer needs to understand these and have the skills to create, configure and maintain the chosen environment.

-   Need for API management. In a large and complex system with multiple APIs, managing APIs and their subscriptions is a significant task. Documentation is essential, usage limits need to be set, security policies need to be in place and enforced.

How low code overcomes API integration challenges

Low-code programming represents underlying code and functionality visually in a graphical user interface. In a low-code API integration tool, users manipulate the visual elements in the graphical user interface to specify the functionality they want the integration to achieve. Underlying software, hidden from the user, interprets the user’s visual layouts and implements the specified API integrations that, in the absence of the low-code development tool, would have to be written by a skilled programmer with an understanding of all the API integrations required.

This means people who understand the end goals and the business requirements of a software project can implement the API integration rather than having to communicate requirements to specialist software developers.

Low-code programming also makes updating functionality in response to changing requirements much easier: it can be undertaken by people close to the issue, without having to call on specialist programmers, without downtime, and without disrupting existing users.

Also, the management of multiple APIs required in traditional software development is greatly simplified: this is handled by the low code API integration tool. The API integration tool can also implement the full range or security requirements, ensuring robust security and greatly reducing the chance of errors creating vulnerabilities.

Introducing Choreo

Choreo gives organisations a single, all-inclusive platform for creating integrations, services, and APIs, for managing APIs and deploying services and APIs, though their lifecycle—going from ideas to production in hours.

Choreo is powered by artificial intelligence. It provides performance feedback in real time. As users write or compose the code, they can see an estimate of application performance, throughput and latency.

WSO2 has implemented API integration for many widely used business applications and made these available through Choreo. There is also a Choreo Marketplace where integrations developed by users for a specific application can be made widely available.

Choreo is written in Ballerina, an open source programming language developed by WSO2 that powers Choreo’s low-code capabilities.

Use cases for low-code API integration

Here are two examples of how low-code API integration can enable enterprising organisations, especially startups, to exploit new business opportunities.

Consumer banking. In Europe, the Payment Services Directive (PSD2) requires financial institutions to give third parties digital access to customers’ account information, with customer consent. This access is provided via APIs. These could be used to develop an application that consolidates customer information across all their accounts and that leverages this data to add value.

Weather information. Where weather stations expose their data via an API, using API integration, an organisation could create an application that enabled a user to pull data from any weather station, or the application could gather data from multiple weather stations to provide an overall weather picture and use the data to develop forecasts. The same idea can be used to build a single API integrating multiple different APIs.

Likely, you will find many more use cases in your organisation and application domain.

Try Choreo for yourself here.


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